System Administrator's Guide/Requirements

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< System Administrator's Guide

The following article lists the software and hardware requirements for the current Mahara stable release (as of this writing, Mahara 1.8). There is a sister article on scalability that provides more details in particular about the hardware.

For the system requirements for older Mahara versions, check the README file in the release's zip file.


Recommended Platform

Mahara is designed to run on variants of the popular LAMP stack. Apart from the PHP requirement, all other parts can be swapped for alternatives if necessary. However, the recommended platform is:

  • Server OS: Linux - Debian Lenny or later, and Ubuntu Lucid or later, are the distributions that the core developers use, and so Mahara is best tested there.
  • Web Server: Apache - 2.0 or greater
  • Database Server: PostgreSQL - 8.3 or greater
  • Language: PHP - 5.3 or greater (the elasticsearch plugin [currently in development for Mahara 1.8] requires 5.3.3 or greater)
  • Web Browser: latest version of Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or Opera; or IE 9-11

All Possible Software Options

While we have a recommended platform, Mahara will run successfully using replacements for parts of the stack. All possible options, supported and unsupported, are listed here.

Server OS

Mahara is officially supported on the following operating systems:

Mahara is not officially supported, but known to work or mostly work, on the following operating systems:

  • Most other variants of Linux, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS, Slackware, Fedora and SUSE.
  • Microsoft Windows - all desktop versions from XP, all server versions from Windows Server 2003.
  • Mac OS X Server, from Tiger upwards (note that people seem to be having more luck with Leopard and above).

Currently, we're not certain of the status of Mahara on other operating systems (Solaris springs to mind). If you know more, feel free to add them to the above list!

Web Server

Mahara is officially supported on the following web servers:

Mahara is not officially supported, but known to work or mostly work, on the following web servers:

Database Server

Mahara is officially supported on the following database servers:

  • PostgreSQL, all versions from 8.3
  • MySQL, all versions from 5.1. Note that you will need InnoDB table support

Mahara's database must be in UTF8 encoding. In MySQL, you can use any UTF8 collation you like - generally, you'll pick the one that suits your locale. If you use MySQL 5.1.5 and old, you need to add the SUPER privilege to user maharauser in order to enable the elasticsearch feature

Mahara is not supported or known to work on any other database server.

Mysql version 5.1 has been packed in old major UNIX/LINUX distributions which support for servers. See the following table for more details (source:

Major UNIX/LINUX distributions support MySQL 5.1
No Distribution Release MySQL version
1 Ubuntu 9.10 - 11.10 5.1.37 - 5.1.58
2 Debian GNU/Linux squeeze (6.0) 5.1.49
3 CentOS 6.5 (current release) 5.1.71
4 Fedora 11 - 14 5.1.32 - 5.1.51
5 RedHat EL 6.5 (current release) 5.1.71 - 5.5.x
6 Open SUSE 11.2 - 11.4 5.1.36 - 5.1.53
7 Free BSD 8.0 - 8.2 5.1.39 - 5.1.55
8 Slackware 13.1 - 13.37 5.1.46 - 5.1.56
9 Open BSD 4.7 - 5.4 5.1.42 - 5.1.70

MySQL 5.5 and 5.6 are going to be replaced by mariadb in many OS distribution, source:


PHP version 5.3 or later is required. In addition, you'll need the following extensions:

  • gd (include Freetype support)
  • json
  • curl
  • libxml
  • SimpleXML
  • session
  • pgsql OR mysqli
  • For networking support: openssl and xmlrpc
  • mbstring
  • mime_magic OR fileinfo
  • mcrypt
  • zip and unzip utilities (necessary for portfolio exports)
  • Optionally: imagick
  • Recommended: zlib, zip, bz2

You should make sure that magic_quotes_gpc is off, and that register_globals is off. Mahara will work around these settings if they're on, but it's better if you turn them off.

Web Browser

Mahara should work in any modern web browser with JavaScript. However current stable is only actively tested in the following browsers:

  • Firefox - latest version
  • Chrome - latest version
  • Safari - latest version
  • Opera - latest version
  • Internet Explorer - versions 9, 10 and 11

Older versions of Mahara may not be fully compatible with the listed web browsers.

Some Mahara plugins may require browser plugins for full functionality. For instance, the internalmedia block, which allows users to embed media files in their Mahara Pages, requires the Adobe Flash browser plugin.


Mahara has hardware requirements that are extremely similar to other PHP-based web applications. A detailed analysis of this is provided in the scalability article, but here are some guiding principles:

  • Mahara comprises a PHP application, which is CPU bound, and a database, which is IO bound. If you can put the database on a separate host to the web server(s), you'll be able to tune the machines more appropriately, but this isn't necessary for "small" installations (anything up to a few thousand users).
  • Mahara requires somewhere between 8 and 32M of RAM for most script invocations. This means that you'll need a decent amount of RAM for your web server(s) in order to support the most number of concurrent connections. So don't be too stingy with the amount of RAM you allocate if you're going to use virtualisation, else the system will crash and burn when you get more than one user using it at once :). Consider at least 1G if you can.
  • If possible, putting a reverse proxy in front of Apache is a great idea - it'll allow your site to handle more concurrent users, as Apache processes won't have to stick around while serving data to clients.
  • Installing Mahara alongside other webapps like Moodle makes sense - they have similar performance profiles. But remember, this will increase the amount of load you're putting on the system. So again, if installing Mahara in a limited resource environment, you might have to increase some limits.

The minimum requirements are:

  • CPU: any modern CPU produced in the last few years is fine, the faster the better naturally. PHP pages are CPU limited, so faster CPUs mean quicker response times.
  • Memory: 256MB at an absolute minimum. 1G or more is recommended.
  • Disk: This will depend largely on how much disk quota you want each user to have. For a site of 1000 users, each with a 250M quota, you might need 50G to start with.

For more detailed information about choosing the right hardware, check out the scalability article.

Requirements FAQ

Here are some commonly asked questions about the requirements:

Can I use Windows to host Mahara?

Users may access Mahara with a standard web browser. For hosting solutions, Mahara has been designed for Linux, Apache, PHP and an SQL database, and currently there has been very little testing for Windows hosted environments. Mahara 1.1 and beyond should be installable on Windows, however.

Instructions for installing using WAMP Server are available for Mahara, which may help you too.

Will Windows be supported in future?

Windows support, when it comes is likely to be addressed through our Partner programme or through a specific client funded request. For now, you should be able to install Mahara on Windows without too much bother, but be aware that we do not officially support this and may not be able to assist you if you have any issues.

What about hosting Mahara on Solaris/Mac/BSD/Other OS?

The developers do not explicitly test for these OSes. While they may well work, there may be issues that the developers cannot help you with. If you come across an issue and work out why it doesn't work, please consider posting in the forums or opening a bug report, so that others may benefit too!

What about using Other Web Server/Other Database/Other PHP?

No other webservers are tested, you're on your own. Please contact the dev team in #mahara/on forums if you're interested in implementing support for other databases. PHP 5.1+ is required, all versions above this should be fine.

Can I use shared hosting?

Maybe. It depends on your host. Some hosts disable certain functions (e.g. exec) or use safe mode, and these things can badly impact on Mahara functionality. Mahara is not explicitly designed to run on shared hosting - while it is a goal we keep in mind, and will accept patches for, shared hosting by its nature limits what you can do, and you should endeavour to obtain a VPS or dedicated host if at all possible.

If your host has disabled exec, you may lose some functionality - for example, the ability to use Import/Export.

Hosts often (stupidly) set AllowOverride None, meaning that .htaccess isn't allowed. If you are getting 500 errors when trying to set up your site, you may find commenting out the php_flag lines, or removing the .htaccess file is necessary. This will not cause a critical reduction in functionality, but if you are forced to remove the entire file it will make your site less performant than it otherwise would be. [Note: The .htaccess file may be invisible on Mac OS X and your server; it may be best to make changes to this file from a Windows based PC and upload it from that platform, which is possible despite the fact that it may appear as a nameless file.]

If you would still like to install Mahara on shared hosting, a detailed guide with screen shots and video tutorials is available on This guide will show you how to install Mahara via cPanel and is designed for users who don't have any previous experience with creating websites or setting up databases.

I am confused by all of this, where do I go to get help now?

To the Mahara Support forums, or #mahara on freenode.